by Eric Ginsburg
The text came a day after I sent Winston-Salem painter Laura Lashley and a carful of her people to Pho Hien Vuong for dinner on their way out of Greensboro.
“The restaurant was the best thing ever!” she wrote. “It inspired me to take my cooking in a whole new direction — I think I could live off of noodles!”
Pho Hien Vuong is easily the most popular Vietnamese restaurant in Greensboro, as evidenced by its recent expansion into the adjacent storefront, and Lashley isn’t the only Camel City resident who wishes there was more Vietnamese cuisine closer to home. My friend Tony makes a point to stop at Banh Mi Saigon for cheap, French-influenced sandwiches when he’s in Greensboro, and I rank the bountiful Vietnamese options as a title the Gate City holds over Winston-Salem’s head.
Xia Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar is totally messing up my calculations.
Pho isn’t technically on the menu at this peripheral downtown restaurant, though it is mentioned on a chalkboard outside a side door to the venue. But if you ask, it’s available, like the meatball and rare beef pho special on Monday night. The dish, or pho tai bo vien, is on the menu at I Love Pho and Van Loi II in Greensboro, and a similar item is available at Pho Hien Vuong. But there are a handful of things that set Xia apart.
Besides the fact that it’s in Winston-Salem, Xia Asian Bistro is the nicest place serving Vietnamese food I know about around here. It’s beautiful, painted in stark, bright red and black, with high ceilings, an expansive dining area, simple decorations and a long bar. But despite traditional Vietnamese chicken salad and Vietnamese black-pepper shrimp and chicken on the menu, Xia is multinational.
The main reason my friends Kristin — who clued me in on the criminally overlooked restaurant — comes here is the sushi. When she joined me for dinner a few days ago, she ordered the $8 Mt. Fuji Roll, which comes with shrimp tempura, crab and eel sauce, among other things. Our friend Andrew ordered the Lava Drops, a crab and cream cheese roll that is fried, for the same price, though we all favored the Mt. Fuji.
Several of the sushi rolls sport playful names, like the Gucci roll, Tiger Woods Y’all and the Japanese bagel roll with salmon and cream cheese. There’s even a Greensboro roll with crab and cucumber wrapped in avocado and topped with baked scallops.
But I’m more interested in the other choices, and if the pho hadn’t been available, I would’ve ordered the Singapore street noodles, which comes with stir-fried shrimp and chicken cooked in a spicy curry sauce. And if it had been lunch, I would’ve had to choose between the $6 chicken pad Thai lunch special or the vermicelli salad with spring rolls and chicken skewers.
Instead I started with the Thai peanut noodles, a dish that proved to be large enough to share with Andrew, Kristin and her husband, Camilo. The cool appetizer was tasty and a little tangy, working best without the hot sauce put out with it and an ideal beginning to a meal on a blisteringly hot June day.
The pho, with halved meatballs and thin cuts of beef, comes with more rice noodles than several other restaurants in the Triad offer. Appropriately accompanied by a side dish with Thai basil, bean sprouts, cilantro, jalpeño slices and a lime, the pho arrives with bits of green stems and onion that add to the depth of the flavorful broth.
The medium size bowl is too much for one person, at least if there’s any sort of appetizer involved. While I was pouring much of the soup into a to-go container for lunch the next day, Camilo cut to the chase, ordering a small pho special to go.
In fact, the couple, who try to come to Xia regularly, say takeout may be the best option at this restaurant between Restaurant Row and the Government District downtown. For some reason pho always tastes better to me later the same night or the next day — maybe it’s the soup steeping or maybe it’s the anticipation — and with somewhat spotty service here, it’s hard to disagree.
It’s not that Xia is the only place serving Vietnamese food in Winston-Salem — in fact there are two other places nearby, Wen Hwa and Downtown Thai & Sushi, that sell pho. But nobody seems to be talking about any of them.
Kristin and Camilo say they’ve never had to wait for a table at Xia Asian Bistro, which is located close to the corner of Third and Liberty streets near the heart of the city, even on a Saturday night during what should be a dinner rush. Parking couldn’t be easier for dinner, as a line of free curbside parking remains vacant after 6 p.m., and there’s a parking deck next door.
Centrally located, great décor, no waiting and delicious food that’s hard to come by. Did I mention there’s air conditioning?
Some Winston-Salem residents may find it is still worth the trek to Greensboro for a heap of pho and Vietnamese options, but the point is, there’s a choice. Because as far as Lashley and I are concerned, suddenly there is worthy competition.
Visit Xia Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar at 102 W. Third St. #110 (W-S) or at xiarestaurant.com.